Independent forest monitoring by civil society can improve transparency and help strengthen checks on illegality in the forest sector in Africa, an international conference heard last month in Accra.
Over 70 experts from ten countries including Cameroon, Cote D’Ivoire, Liberia, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo attended the African Sub-Regional Conference on Independent Forest Monitoring on 10-11 May. The conference was co-organized by Civic Response Ghana, with support from the FAO-EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Programme, and the Congo Basin Forest Monitoring project (CV4C) implemented by the Centre for International Development and Training (CIDT).
Independent forest monitoring is widely practiced in Africa and Asia as a means to assess and strengthen legal compliance in the forest sector. Often, it takes the form of a partnership between an official host institution responsible for oversight of the forest sector and an appointed monitoring organization, which conducts field investigations, observes forest operations, the works of the official law enforcement agency and documents illegal activities in the forest and related timber trade.
With the advent of Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) between the European Union (EU) and timber-producing countries, independent forest monitoring has evolved to include monitoring activities undertaken by civil society, either in a formal or informal role. Civil society-led independent forest monitoring is widely practiced in the Central African region, particularly in Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo and Republic of Congo, with civil societies in other countries now showing an interest in getting involved.
Marc Vandenhaute of the FAO-EU FLEGT Programme.
The conference in Ghana was organized as part of co-organizer Civic Response Ghana’s work towards a civil society-led independent forest monitoring process in the country, with support from the FAO-EU FLEGT Programme.
The aim of the conference was to share lessons on the impact of independent forest monitoring on forestry policy and practice in the Congo Basin, and to chart a path for civil society-led independent forest monitoring in the sub-region in addition to helping Ghanaian participants assess options and structure for potential monitoring in Ghana.
Opening the conference, Ghana’s Deputy Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, Benito Owusu Bio, said:
We intend for independent forest monitoring to be used as a pre-due diligence tool, to ensure that FLEGT licenses issued are credible and provide adequate feedback to continually improve forest management practice and systems.
Bio called on countries from the Central Africa sub-region, particularly those in the Congo Basin already implementing civil society-led independent forest monitoring, to provide expert teams who can guide its implementation in Ghana and other parts of the continent.
The sub-regional conference helped gather momentum and interest across the region around the need and opportunity to institutionalize the complementary role of civil society organizations in ensuring transparency, integrity and credibility of the FLEGT VPA process.
Obed Owusu-Addai, Programme Officer of Civic Response Ghana.
Ghana is currently on track to be the second nation in the world – and the first in Africa – to issue FLEGT licences, which will certify that timber exported to the EU has been harvested, transported, processed and traded according to Ghanaian law.
The FAO-EU FLEGT Programme is funded by the European Union, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, and the Department for International Development of the United Kingdom.
Photo: Civic Response Ghana